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The Risks of Buying Pets Online

We are living in a digital world where you can purchase almost anything online, but just because we can, does it really mean that we should? This blog looks at the risk factors of buying pets online in the lead-up to Christmas.

We’ve all heard of the phrase ‘a dog is for life not just for Christmas’, however, it’s not just puppies at risk of online exploitation this holiday period, a quick search on Pets 4 Homes reveals how easy it is to ‘click and collect’ virtually any pet. Backstreet breeders are more prevalent than ever as a result of the holiday season and the global pandemic. Research by The Better Business Bureau (BBB) estimated that 80% of sponsored search links for pet sales were fraudulent or using images of pets not belonging to them.

Emily’s Story

We are so accustomed to buying things at the click of a button that it’s easy to forget the risks of buying pets online. Research on 2,400 new pet owners carried out by the Kennel Club in 2018, revealed that 1 in 5 puppies bought online died before reaching the age of 6 months old, and 1 in 3 had either died or became severely ill within their first year of life. Whilst a puppy bought online may appear healthy when first bought, it’s unfortunately common for them to drastically decline within a few days of being at their new home. This comes from unreliable dealers breeding and selling puppies that are ill, injured, and poorly socialised - often taken away from their mothers far too young. In the Kennel Clubs survey, 1 in 4 people who bought online had undergone emotional and financial trauma as a result of buying their pet online.

This was the case for Emily (whose name has been changed for anonymity) who bought her first dog, a beautiful golden retriever puppy, with her husband earlier this year.

“We decided to get a puppy after our landlord granted us permission to have one after years of asking. We found a gorgeous 8-week old golden retriever from Kent on pets4homes. We had been advised that it was a reputable website. We messaged the breeder and asked all the relevant questions about vaccinations, the history of the parents if the mum was available to see on the day. All seemed well and we got a good feeling from him. [When we] went to get her, [the] house was a lovely little bungalow, we met the couple, saw the mum and they had just been vaccinated, we had their records and everything. The day after bringing her back she wouldn’t eat her food or drink, as it was a scorching day we took her to our local vets who advised she was very dehydrated and she had to go to the emergency vet. The emergency vet advised she was very poorly and she needed overnight care, we were asked to put down £1000 there to allow her to be treated. Of course, we did, we got the phone call that night that she had parvo.

A few days later we made the decision to put her down after [the] vets advice as she was not going to make it. We had frantically been trying to contact the breeder to warn that it was parvo - but he stopped responding. We decided to report it to the council and RSPCA who rang us to say that he was a known puppy farmer, a very experienced one who has been doing it for years but never had enough evidence to get them. We are currently waiting for the court date. The vet bill ended up being £2.5k and we spent £2k on her.”

Unfortunately, this story is all too common with illegitimate breeders fast adapting to the online age and becoming ever-more convincing in their adverts and even at in-person viewings. Although unlicensed puppy farms are now illegal in the UK, the puppy farm industry continues to thrive through ‘anonymous’ breeders supplying puppies through fake ads.

How To Avoid Being Scammed?

If you’re searching for a new pet online, the chances that you’ll come across scams or fake adverts are pretty high. So how do you avoid being scammed? Here are some of our tell-tale signs before picking up your new furry family member online.

The Warning Signs:

  • The breeder is selling the pet for a much lower rate than you have seen elsewhere.

  • The breeder has multiple breeds or species also listed.

  • The breeder puts pressure on you to put a deposit on the pet before you have seen it.

  • The breeder doesn’t let you view or collect the pet in its home or offers to ‘drop it’ at your house instead.

  • Messages between yourself and the breeder have poor language, spelling or grammar.

  • If the breeder asks for money for pet food, veterinary care, before you have collected the pet this is a sign they are illegitimate.

  • Similarly, be cautious if the seller asks for payments via money transfer.

Red Flags When Viewing Your Pet:

Always make sure you view your pet at least once in their home before buying. Once you are with them, here is what to look out for.

  • One big tell-tale sign a breeder isn’t legit is if the pet’s parents are unable to be seen. Puppies should be with their mother until they are at least 8 weeks old, and for kittens between 10-14 weeks is desired. Most reputable breeders should also provide a picture of the father if he is not there. In the event of the mother dying, the littermates should always remain together until this age to avoid the ​​risk for developmental, social, and health issues. If the breeder makes up an excuse for the mother not being around, this is a huge red flag.

  • Recently illegitimate breeders have been renting properties to create a homely facade. If you are buying from a family, look around for pictures in frames, or signs that a pet really lives there.

  • When you visit, check how healthy the pet looks. Be sure to check for clean ears and eyes. If the puppy is unwell when you go to collect them, ask to collect them another day.

  • Buying a pet is a big responsibility and financial outlay, make sure to ask lots of questions if the person you are buying from can’t answer them or gets annoyed, be wary! Most reputable sellers will also want to ask you lots of questions to know about the environment the pet will be raised in. If the breeder isn’t asking questions, be cautious.

When Collecting Your Pet:

  • When collecting your new furry friend, make sure you are provided with all of the relevant information and paperwork from the breeder. This could include information about the pets family history, age, and vaccinations.

  • When purchasing a puppy, make sure the puppy has been vaccinated and microchipped with the breeders own details - this is now a legal requirement and often a good sign of a breeders legitimacy.

What To Do If You Think An Ad Is a Scam or You Have Been Scammed?

If you are in doubt about where this pet has come from or feel pressured by the seller, the best thing to do is walk away. Although it may feel responsible to take the pet home, particularly if they are unwell or motherless, it is best to step away and report the breeder.

There are a few different ways to report suspicious animal breeding activity.

If You See a Scam:

  • The first step is to take any screenshots of the advert with relevant information (phone numbers, the seller’s name, etc.) before reporting the initial advert to the website it has been posted on.

  • If you suspect there has been illegal activity, it is also important to then report the seller to the Trading Standard, you can find information for this here: having the screenshots of the advert can help the Trading Standards find the breeder if the advert gets taken down.

  • The RSPCA also has a 24-hour cruelty line: 0300 1234 999, and a Reporting Cruelty Checklist: where you can report illegitimate breeders.

If You Have Been a Victim of Fraudulent Activity:

Whilst bringing a new animal into the family is an exciting time, it’s important to stay vigilant in your quest for the perfect pet. At Roundwood’s, we are here to support you and offer advice about your new furry friend.


Order Dr Hannah Parkin's Amazing Guide To Caring For Your New Puppy.
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